Generosity isn’t always a virtue. Sometimes it’s naïve. And on occasion it can be downright tragic.
I’ve known people struggling to pay their bills and put food on the table, yet they’ve emptied their wallets to help a prosperity preacher buy his own private jet. Occurrences like that flood my mind with thoughts of outrage and grief. There is nothing commendable about supporting spiritual con artists.
Sadly, that is what most Christian denominations essentially do with a minor Bible character who has become an icon for giving and generosity: the poor widow in Luke 21:2. Concerning her, John MacArthur asks the following provocative questions:
How would you feel if you saw a destitute widow, with only two coins left to buy food for her next meal, give those two coins to a religious system? You would probably think, something is wrong with a system that takes the last two coins out of a widow's hand. That’s what you would think, and you would be right to think that. Giving your last two coins to a false religious system! How would you feel if you saw a destitute, impoverished person give to her religion her last hope for life, go home, and perhaps die? You’d be sick. You’d feel terrible. You’d be repulsed. Any religion that is built on the backs of the poor is a false religion. What a sad, misguided, woeful, poor, victimized lady. It's tragic and painful. And I think that's exactly how Jesus saw it.
In his sermon “Abusing the Poor,” John MacArthur lays waste the conventional theological wisdom of our day concerning the poor widow in Luke 21:1–4. While commentators and preachers widely applaud her generosity, John reveals that this consensus has only been reached through divorcing the character from her biblical context.
When I first heard this message, it jolted my expectations. The poor widow had a starring role in many of the sermons I’d heard throughout my Christian life. I thought I had learned all she had to teach me. But hearing “Abusing the Poor” was the first time I ever considered her story within its biblical context. Jesus wasn’t commending the generosity of a poor widow—He was condemning the corruption of the religious system that was extorting her.
“Abusing the Poor” tells the story of the poor widow in its proper, biblical context. More importantly, it exposes the true evil behind the theft perpetrated by those who pretend to represent God. This message alerts us to remain vigilant in our opposition to the many corrupt religious systems that still plague us today.